Jim Insley’s final season on the Wellsville bench unfolded like a Hollywood movie script. The Lions were dominant in the regular season and rolled right through the playoffs, capturing the program’s second Section V title with a cathartic win at the Blue Cross Arena.
It was one final crowning achievement in a coaching career that turned Wellsville into a basketball powerhouse. Insley was happy to ride off into the sunset, but this script, it turns out, has a twist at the end.
Following a year off, a confluence of events has placed a clipboard in Insley’s hands once again, and he enters the 2016-17 campaign as the head coach at Pioneer.
Resuming his coaching career was the last thing on Insley’s mind when the family moved into the Pioneer school district. The newfound free time allowed him to watch son Matt wrap up his career at D’Youville College, while McGuire’s hoops journey was just beginning in junior high.
And, of course, he watched from afar as the Lions repeated as Section V champs under Raymie Auman.
“A lot of people came up to me throughout last season and said it must be hard, but it was not hard at all,” Insley recalled. “I never thought twice about my decision to move and stop coaching. I was really done, and I still would be done. There was no itch to get back into it at all.”
Fate, however, started to intervene. Pioneer’s coach took a job in Buffalo at the start of the school year. The administration then opened up a coaching search without much success.
With a resume that includes about a .750 winning percentage and three Section V titles between coaching stints at Wellsville and Canaseraga, Insley fielded a few calls about the position. He wasn’t interested. Over time, though, the scales started to weigh in favor of the opportunity.
“This is his first year of not playing basketball in probably his entire life,” Insley said. “He knows he wants to get into coaching. He’s got a rotation off in December and then he’s got two months of rotations in Arcade. It’s a great opportunity for him, and for me to work with him, which I’m certainly looking forward to.
“McGuire being an 8th grader and really blossoming into a pretty good basketball player kind of took my mind off of it. It may not be what I want to do, but it might be what’s best for my family and hopefully Pioneer school.”
The differences between the program Insley built and the one he inherits are stark. Pioneer went 4-17 last year starting five seniors, graduating 10. The lower levels at JV and modified also struggled, and the varsity returns just four players from last year’s squad.
Pioneer is a Class A school in Section VI. It plays a difficult schedule against more urban Erie County schools like Cheektowaga, Maryvale, Starpoint and East Aurora. Recreating Wellsville-like success at Pioneer will be a challenge, especially with a young roster in Year 1.
“It’s completely different. It is starting from the ground up,” Insley said. “It goes from goals of winning sectional titles and having a chance to move on into the state tournament, to get better every day, see improvement, work hard and build a culture where basketball is played more than just the four months in winter.”
Having made the commitment to the Pioneer program, Insley is now all-in. He has a couple big allies in Matt and McGuire, who shot up to 5-10 with a recent growth spurt. McGuire goes to modified practice, heads home to eat supper and do homework, then joins his dad and older brother at the varsity practice in the evening.
It’s a proven formula for success.
Just don’t expect Wellsville and Pioneer to meet anytime soon.
“It will never happen unless Wellsville gains enrollment and we play them in a regional game,” Insley said.
What about a crossover in the regular season?
“It will never happen when I’m coaching," Insley reiterated. "It might happen after I leave. Maybe Matt will want to do that if he takes over, but right now I’ll never play that game. I could never coach against Wellsville basketball, I could never root against them or try to beat them. That’s who I am. My heart and my love will forever be in Wellsville basketball.”